Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Category: Museums & Galleries

Priceless Lisbon

Museu Colecca Berardo, Bélem. Photo Credit: Wikitravel

Lisbon is a great city for those travelling on a budget. Food and drink is affordable and much of the experience of the city is in discovering its many miradouros, listening to the strains of fado in the backstreets of the Alfama and getting lost in the the Bairro Alto.

And, even better, many of the cultural sites that would come at a price in many other European cities are free. Here are my three favourite priceless cultural discoveries during our time in Lisbon. This said, with only three days to explore we couldn’t cover even a tiny percentage of what was on offer, so I know I’ll have missed some great sites here. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments. (NB. I will be covering the majority of Belém attractions such as the monastry in a separate post. Promise!)

Wine bottle tree, Museu Colecca Berardo. Photo Credit: Fat Pig in the Market 

Museu Coleccao Berardo, Belém
Open 7 days a week, 10am – 7pm (last entrance: 6.30pm)

This modern art museum is home to the collection of billionaire José Berardo. It features both permanent and temporary exhibits by new contemporary artists and renowned names such as Warhol, Picasso and Hockney. My favourite exhibit was Mappa Mundi, a temporary collection featuring artworks inspired by geographical maps, from collages to more political pieces.

There’s plenty here to keep contemporary art lovers entertained for hours. However even if you think that’s not your thing, it’s still worth paying the museum a visit if you’re in the area. After all, it being free of charge you can’t really go wrong. And it’s got really good air conditioning.

MUDE Museum, Lisbon. Photo Credit: Archdaily

Mude: Lisbon Design & Fashion Museum
Free of charge
Open Tuesdays – Sundays, 10am – 6pm (8pm in summer)

If our B&B host hadn’t recommended it, we would have walked straight past the Fashion & Design Museum. It’s not that it’s hard to find – with a huge sign outside of its central location it’s arguably harder to miss – but we just wouldn’t have considered paying it a visit. In fact, even then the only reason we did go in was because we were walking past and had some time to spare.

Actually, the Museum is worth planning into your trip, if only to catch a glimpse of the warehouse-style building in which it is housed, complete with exposed plaster and concrete. Its contents are pretty interesting too. Arranged by decades, they take you on a journey through the history of fashion and design by designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Yves St Laurent and Phillipe Starck. The decades are accompanied by a brief overview of history during the period, contextualising the designs of the time. , 50’s, 60’s and 70’s music plays softly in the background, growing louder as you approach those decades.

Fascinating and informative and full of lovely pieces to lust over, this museum is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re into vintage looks or design and fashion in general.

Roman Ruins, Lisbon. Photo Credit: Polewn

Núcleo Arquelógico da Rua dos Correeiros
Rua dos Correeiros, no 9, Baixa
Very limited hours, visit the website for more details

I’ll be honestI can only really half recommend this attraction. We did go in to the museum section, featuring a number of artefacts. But, unless you’re an archaeologist or ancient historian, this small space is unlikely to hold your attention for long, although the woman working there when we visited was extremely knowledgeable and definitely worth talking to.

However, what I really want to recommend is the Roman site – a critoportico – which lies under this space, offering an insight in Lisbon life before an earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1755. The bank offers occasional tours of this area, some of which are conducted in English. We left it to late to enquire about when the next tour would be (unfortunately we had to be on a bus to the airport at the same time), so I can’t recommend it first-hand. However it’s definitely something I’ll make an effort to to try and arrange if I ever find myself back in Lisbon. Learn from my mistakes and investigate early on in your trip if you’re interested.

Ghosts, cowboys and cocktails: Old Town San Diego

Whaley House. Photo credit: About.com

Cowboys and the Wild West conjure up three thoughts for me: John Wayne, Frontierland and the Hotel Cheyenne at Disneyland Paris, and the Will Smith song. None of these, as you’ve probably noted, are real. The thought that pioneers once road dusty streets in chaps and spurs is one of those that I still can’t get my head around having actually happened.

But Old Town State Historic Park, San Diego proves that such a world isn’t just confined to Westerns and theme parks. What you actually discover is somewhere that mixes its history with fun attractions and good booze (this having been a Mexican settlement, Tequila and Corona feature highly on menus). Though some might argue that these are one and the same.

Some of the scenery, Old Town San Diego

Considered the birthplace of California, the Old Town was colonised by the Spanish in the late 18th century.* And while only seven buildings from the original old town actually remain – the rest fell victim to a fire in 1872 and were reconstructed in the 1960’s – it still provides a sense of history. Even as someone who equates the Wild West with fiction, I could picture how the bustling town might have felt 150, 200 years ago.

Although some of the buildings in Old Town have been turned into commercial premises, many more have been dedicated to recreating life in the 1800’s. Mason Street School is California’s first public schoolhouse, La Casa de Machado y Stewart contains commonly-used artifacts from the period and The Seeley Stables museums is a must-visit for anyone interested in the transport of the period.

One of the less desirable aspects of life in Old Town San Diego

One of the attractions we visited was Whaley House, located off the main plaza at 2476 San Diego Avenue. We were drawn to it because of the claim that, according to America’s Most Haunted television programme, it is the most haunted house in the United States. Admittedly we weren’t actually expecting to see any ghosts (it was broad daylight and full of tourists), or even Woman in Black** levels of fear. But we did expect something a little spooky, or at least a bit of a laugh. The closest we came to a ghost, however, were the shapes produced by a combination of reflections and light in the glass barriers they conveniently happen to have erected between all the displays (cynical, us?).

‘Ghostly’ reflections, Whaley House, Old Town San Diego

This said, it was an interesting piece of history. For adults (or anyone old enough to spot the old glass trick), it’s probably not quite worth the entrance fee ($6 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for children aged 3-12). Families, however, should stop by – they provide lots of history about the house and the lives of those who live here and all the ones I noticed seemed to be enjoying the mix of history and potential frights! Make sure children speak to the staff too – not only did they appear very knowledgeable about the house, but they also seemed more than willing to share their own encounters with the house’s alleged spectres.

I would also be tempted to take the night tour to see if that provided a few more scares, though the ticket prices do rise to $10 for adults and $5 for children for these.

Our final stop was Café Coyote, a little down the road from Whaley House. There is no shortage of bars and restaurants in the Old Town serving Mexican food, most offering ridiculously cheap deals on Tacos in off-peak hours. Having not done our research (I know, I know) we lucked out with our snap choice of Café Coyote. Friendly service (waiters offering to take photos of the two of us on seeing my camera on the table), good atmosphere even in the off-peak mid-afternoon, and, more importantly my cocktail was strong while remaining flavoursome. There’s plenty of choice on the drinks menu too, with a wide variety of Margaritas and more varieties of tequila on offer than I knew existed! Though you’d expect nothing less from one of just two certified tequila houses in the United States.

Although I can’t comment on the food other the obligatory free chips ‘n’ dips (very good, in case you were wondering!), that looked appetising too and most of the reviews on TripAdvisor suggest that it tastes pretty good too. Not to mention that it’s been named Best Mexican Restaurant every year from 2005-2011 except 2007 (though Best Mexican Restaurant where isn’t specified…). They also have ‘Taco Tuesdays’, with the food on offer for $2 from 3.30pm – for that price, you can’t really go wrong!

Cocktails & Corona aplenty at Café Coyote, Old Town San Diego (Photo Credits: San Diego Blog

 

Is Old Town worth a trip? Those without children and/or a keen interest in history will probably find that they spend as much time in a bar as they do exploring the town, but it’s still an interesting excursion and the bars provide a nice setting to while away a few hours (despite the mariachi band!). I definitely preferred the setting to the other tourist hotspot for drinking, the Gaslamp Quarter in central San Diego.

Families should aside a good amount of time to explore Old Town. There’s lots to be learned here, and plenty of well-kept spaces and attractions to be explored (also, children are less likely to be cynical about some of the park’s less authentic aspects!). Before you visit, check out the area’s website: including information on special events and walking tours, it will make sure you manage to pack as much of the park as into your day as possible.

Old Town might not come at you all guns blazing and it’s no wild ride (sorry..!). But whether you’re into cowboys or coronas, the past or the present, Old Town San Diego will provide something here to entertain you.

*Actually, according to Frommer’s, it wasn’t officially American until 1842; until then it was Mexico’s informal capital of California.

**The play. Not the film. But only because I haven’t seen the film (yet) so can’t judge.